Henri-Georges Clouzot (France, 1949)
Overlooked for decades though it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Manon is memorable for its scornful vision of postwar France as a moral quagmire, not the promised utopia. Transposing Abbé Prevost’s eighteenth-century novel to the period of the Liberation, the film stars Cécile Aubrey in her debut romp as a prostitute about to be lynched for sleeping with the enemy. Manon is rescued by a young Resistance fighter, Robert (Michel Auclair), who quickly succumbs to her charms. The two flee to Paris where the lure of luxury drives Manon and her naïve lover into an illicit underworld. The demimonde of black marketeers and devious harlots is the natural habitat for this play of amour fou in the chaos of a ruined nation, epitomized by our eponymous heroine who purrs, "Nothing is sordid when two people love each other." Clouzot leaves no quarter unsullied as he tracks with shocking allure the downward destiny of his lovers, one an instinctual coquette, the other an unswerving dreamer. Steeped in postwar pessimism, Manon warns that paradise is not to be found on this earth.
• Written by Clouzot, Jean Ferry, based on the novel Manon Lescaut by L’Abbé Prevost. Photographed by Armand Thirard. With Cécile Aubry, Michel Auclair, Serge Reggiani. (90 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From UNC Moving Image Archives)